Michael George, MD, on Concerns and Health-Related Behaviors During the Pandemic

Along with his colleagues, Michael George, MD, recently compared the concerns and health-related behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic between patients with common autoimmune rheumatic conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or systemic lupus erythematosus) vs patients with nonautoimmune rheumatic conditions. In this video from our sister site—the Autoimmune Learning Network—Dr George highlights his findings.

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Michael George, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as a medical advisor to CreakyJoints.



Hi, I’m Michael George. I’m an assistant professor of rheumatology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and I’m glad to be able to share a little bit about our work in progress that was presented at the American College Rheumatology annual meeting.

This study was interested specifically in looking at the concerns and behaviors of rheumatology patients, and we were interested in learning about how these patients with autoimmune conditions compared to patients with nonautoimmune conditions.

I think we’re well aware of concerns that our patients with autoimmune conditions have—concerned that they might be a greater risk of COVID-19 or that their medications might influence their risk, but less has been done to sort of compare those to others that we see in our rheumatology practice. 

So to do this, we surveyed patients that are part of a large multistate rheumatology community practice that’s part of a practice research network, and we receive survey responses from 18,000 patients. For this analysis we focused on a subgroup of patients of 9000 patients that either had a common autoimmune rheumatic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, spondyloarthritis and compared those to patients who had nonautoimmune conditions, like osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. 

And what we were surprised to find in comparing those patients’ responses is actually the concerns about COVID-19 and their health behaviors or social distancing behaviors are actually quite similar between the groups. Both groups are very affected by the pandemic with a large impact on their behaviors and concerns, and that’s after adjusting for things like age and region and location.

We also looked at their health care behaviors and found that actually the people with autoimmune conditions were like less likely to avoid office visits, somewhat more likely to have us telemedicine, probably because of the greater need for close follow up for those patients.

And then finally, and something that we’re still working on is, we’re very interested in medication interruptions. Have patients with autoimmune conditions been stopping their medications? And we found concerningly that about 10% of patients reported stopping one of their medications because of concerns about COVID-19, even if they hadn’t become ill or were exposed themselves. And for about 9 out of 10 of these people, it was without the recommendation of a physician. So clearly, a lot of patients who had stopped medications because of COVID-19 concerns.

We’re drilling into this more to learn about how health care interruptions, office visits, telemedicine how that impacts this and hopefully we’ll have more of that in the coming days.

That’s my summary for now, so thank you very much.